GPA and How it Works: Is A 4.0 Really That Important?

Maintaining high grades can be one of the biggest pressures in the lives of many college students, with parents, professors, academic advisers, and friends all reinforcing the belief that maintaining a high grade point average (GPA) is crucial to college and career success. But how do grade point averages work? What do they mean for your education, and your future? Do you need a perfect GPA to succeed? The answers you find may surprise you.

Grade Point Averages are often calculated on a 4-point scale. Performance in classes are assigned a letter grade which is worth between 0 and 4 points.  The value of the letter grade is multiplied by the number of credits for each course resulting in a number of honor points.  The total number of honor points for all classes is divided by the total number of credit hours resulting in the GPA.  This scheme may be calculated as follows:

A = 4 honor points

B = 3 honor points

C = 2 honor points

D = 1 honor points

F = 0 honor points

Class 1 – Letter grade x credit = honor points

Class 2 – Letter grade x credit = honor points

Class 3 – Letter grade x credit = honor points

Class 4 – Letter grade x credit = honor points

Class 5 – Letter grade x credit = honor points

Total honor points /total credit hours = GPA


Class 1 – Grade A x 3 credits= 12 honor points

Class 2 – Grade C x 3 credits = 6 honor points

Class 3 – Grade B x 4 credits = 12 honor points

Class 4 – Grade A x 1 credit = 4 honor points

Class 5 – Grade A x 4 credits = 16 honor points

50 total honor points/15 Credits = 3.33 GPA

Other universities may followed a scaled GPA model, with grade performance more directly influencing GPA, and letter-grades being less divisive. For some universities, a scaled GPA may look like this:

A = 4.00 honor points

A- = 3.70 honor points

B+ = 3.33 honor points

B = 3.00 honor points

B- = 2.70 honor points

C+ = 2.30 honor points

C = 2.00 honor points

C- = 1.70 honor points

D+ = 1.30 honor points

D = 1.00 honor points

D- = 0.70 honor points

F= 0.00 honor points

Knowing what type of GPA a university uses may not be an important factor to consider when choosing a college, but it is an important process to know when you start your classes.. Scaled GPA scores can sometimes paint a more accurate picture of one’s academic performance, but obtaining a 4.0 GPA using this scheme can be more difficult.

High school GPAs are one of many factors that influence a university’s decision to admit an applicant and the same holds true for college students who wish to pursue an education beyond their undergraduate degree. Maintaining a high grade-point average encourages many graduate school programs to offer higher levels of financial aid funding towards a student’s tuition. The same can be said for places of undergraduate study, with some universities offering scholarship funding that changes yearly with a student’s GPA. For students with a greater financial need for these scholarships, or for those who wish to avoid taking out student loans, maintaining a high GPA can be an important part of the college experience.

       Students who choose to transfer between universities should be prepared to face different requirements for scholarships at their new schools. At many American universities, a student’s GPA from their old school will be included into their total GPA at their new school. Their scholarship eligibility, however, is often determined solely by the grades received for classes taken in their new school.

Aside from academic benefits, obtaining a high GPA makes an impressive addition to any resume, and can even grant you membership to academic honors societies and organizations. Participation (and especially holding a leadership position) in groups like these are also excellent resume boosters. Graduate schools and businesses alike are often interested in applicants who can show group activity and leadership in more areas than just the classroom.

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With all of these opportunities in mind, is obtaining a perfect 4.0 worth the effort? The answer will depend from person to person, but it is tough to deny the many benefits that can come from putting in the extra time and energy to keep grades high. What is most important is to fully understand how your school’s GPA system and how to make the system work best for you! 

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Alex is a Sociology major at Truman State University. He enjoys learning about new cultures and new people.

This is the official blog of the Truman State University Center for International Students.